Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Nadya Fouad

Committee Members

Kelsey Autin, Rajeswari Swaminathan, Lance Weinhardt


Identity Development, Nonbinary, Transgender


This qualitative study sought to further explore the lived experiences of trans and nonbinary college students, in attempts to address the empirical gap contributed to by conflation of sexual and gender minorities’ experiences in research. The focus is on the lived experiences of trans and nonbinary college students to explore identity development, their experiences on campus and with mental health services, the nature of help-seeking behaviors, and their recommendations for mental health professionals, allies, and college staff. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews addressing the following research questions: (1) What are the lived experiences of trans and nonbinary college students; (2) How do trans and nonbinary college students experience their process of gender identity development, and (3) What clinical supports do trans and nonbinary college students need? Data were analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), primarily because of the methodological strength of using the participants’ own descriptions rather than imposing an existing theoretical framework (Smith, 1996). Due to the paucity of research on the lived experiences of trans and nonbinary college students, this analysis methodology helped to reveal some alignment with existing nascent literature describing gender identity development, as well as illuminating some new themes. Participants were four students aged 19-24 who self-identified as trans and nonbinary, were at state universities in the United States, and had been enrolled for at least two semesters. Findings revealed an over-arching and persistent theme of the Impact of the Binary, in which all participants described challenges specifically related to forced (binary) choices impacting how identity is developed, explored, and expressed. This impact was woven through the other themes which emerged in response to research questions. Themes related to gender identity development (RQ1) were Nature of Identity Development, Bodies, and Language. Themes related to the experiences of trans and nonbinary students (RQ2) were Negative Experiences, Coping, Supports, and Recommendations. And finally, in response to RQ3, themes related to clinical supports revealed themes of Facilitative Experiences with Providers, Negative Experiences with Providers, Barriers to Seeking Services, Nature of Services, and Recommendations. Themes are explored and expanded with sub themes, with quotes from participants to illuminate the meanings. This study situates the findings in the broader body of research and demonstrates important aspects of the trans and nonbinary experience for educating clinicians and higher education officials to better support trans and nonbinary students. Recommendations are provided first in two categories, Talk About It and Show Me, followed by recommendations geared specifically for mental health clinicians, and finally for college campus officials.